SAN SALVADOR — After 20-hours of closed-door talks, the Salvadoran government and leftist guerrillas Tuesday agreed to form a commission to negotiate a cease-fire under the Central American peace plan.
The announcement was more than had been expected from the two-day meeting, but both sides emphasized that prospects for a cease-fire accord were slim.
Between the government and guerrilla positions, "the distances are great and the contradictions are marked," guerrilla commander Schafik Jorge Handal said.
President Jose Napoleon Duarte declared that if there is no agreement in the next month, he will declare a unilateral cease-fire to comply with the Central American peace plan.
Duarte did not give any details of the government's plan, which according to military sources the army has been crafting for weeks. In neighboring Nicaragua, the Sandinistas declared a unilateral cease-fire in three areas of the country that goes into effect today
The peace plan, signed by the five Central American presidents Aug. 7, calls for cease-fires in the regions' insurgencies, amnesty programs and democratic reforms by Nov. 7. The plan also calls for an end to foreign aid to insurgents and prohibits Central American governments from providing logistical or military support to the rebels of another country.
Nicaragua is known to have provided military and logistical support to the Salvadoran guerrillas in the early years of the war. The Reagan Administration charges that they still do, but has offered no proof.
A mid-level Sandinista delegation visited El Salvador on Tuesday to meet with Duarte advisers, government officials and opposition political party members "to reassure them of any doubts they might have about the peace plan," said one of the Nicaraguans. He gave no details.
The dialogue between the Salvadoran government and Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrillas was the first in nearly three years and the longest since the civil war began nearly eight years ago.
Although both sides agreed to work for peace, neither altered its basic position that has kept them at war. The government argued during the meeting that the guerrillas should lay down their arms and enter the existing political system.
The guerrillas argued that the Duarte government is sustained by the United States and that there are two armies in the country, theirs and the government's. They want an integration of the armed forces, a transition government in which they can share power and a new or reformed constitution.
Despite the extreme difference, both sides said the mood of the meetings generally was one of "mutual respect." Several of the rebel and government leaders have known each other for decades and used to work together in Duarte's Christian Democratic party or in political coalitions.
The government team to the talks was lead by Duarte and Defense Minister Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova. The rebel team was headed by guerrilla commanders Handal and Leonel Gonzalez, and by political exiles Guillermo Ungo and Ruben Zamora.
Government negotiators were pleased with the results of the agreement, which reiterated support for the Central American peace accord. The peace plan effectively backs the constituted governments and calls for an end to armed struggle.
"We got what we wanted," said a member of the government team.
The final communique was issued on Tuesday shortly after midnight outside the papal nuncio's residence, where the talks were held amid heavy security. Afterward, the guerrilla leaders held an outdoor rally with about 700 students, union activists and other backers carrying red flags and chanting their support.
"We don't want to raise false hopes," shouted Handal, who wore military fatigues. "We want to tell you that we must put our trust only in our own struggle. The more the people's struggle grows, the better the conditions for fair accords."
The rebel leaders were protected by a circle of Salvadoran Red Cross workers. Riot police stayed at a distance, as did national police carrying automatic rifles.
Arms Delivery Moratorium
In their communique, the two sides agreed to name four members to a cease-fire commission within five days, and to present a joint report to the archbishop of San Salvador, Arturo Rivera y Damas in 30 days.
The government views a cease-fire as a transition period toward the guerrillas' disarmament, whereas the guerrillas view a cease-fire as a transition to a new government.
Handal, one of the five commanders of the Farabundo Marti Front, said a cease-fire should include a moratorium on arms deliveries, a halt to recruitment and the withdrawal of U.S. military advisers. Also, the guerrillas believe a cease-fire should recognize rebel control over territory, a point that the government will not concede.
"We cannot come to an agreement on a cease-fire," a member of the government's team predicted. "There is no cease-fire (the guerrillas) can accept."